Why I love foraging

Andy Hamilton picking blackberries
Andy Hamilton Foraging blackberries by Roy Hunt

Whenever I start my Bristol foraging walks I always ask the group if they have any prior knowledge of wild food. They often (as a group) look sheepishly down to the ground in a collective muttering of, “no”.wild blackberry or apple picking”, I always ask. The whole group transforms to a collective murmur of yeses as I announce that these are wild foods and therefore they have all indeed been foraging. Stories then start to spill out from this group of foragers about childhood Easter holidays spent on farms picking wild garlic, or about fathers who would munch on wayside plants as they walked around the fens.

This perhaps why I get really annoyed when people dismissingly call foraging middle-class pass time, not because I hate the middle classes (I was bought up as one, albeit lower middle class); but because foraging is one of the most classless and inclusive activities going. You don’t need any special equipment, it can be done almost anywhere and by its very nature it’s totally free. I have taken groups of inner city single mothers out foraging, groups of office workers, Doctors, scientists, students and children. All equally enjoy learning and eating our landscape as much as each other. Our ancestors were all hunter GATHERERS, they were indeed all foragers. I might not have to check the history books to be pretty certain that we didn’t have a class structure 20 000 years ago.

On a personal level I want more people to forage so they can share the joy I have watching the seasons slowly unfold into a picnic full of flavours. Think of the exhilaration you feel after the wind has whipped you up a craggy path to the top of one of our great hills or mountains, or how a summers afternoon on Cornish beach can reenergize you for months after or even just how walking the dog cheers you up. This is how I feel daily when I go out picking food. It’s as much about what I am feeling as what I am eating, even in the rain, the feeling is happiness.

I think it is the interaction with the outside world that I enjoy, not just passively walking around a well trodden path with 40 other people having driven there on a Saturday afternoon but really getting to know an area and all its plants. These joys can be had by all, even if you are only picking blackberries!